Digital Artist Creates Elaborate Arrays of 3D-Printed Stones

Back in 2009, Italian designer Giuseppe Randazzo of Novastructura released a series of generative digital “sculptures” that depicted carefully organized pebbles and rocks on a flat plane. Titled Stone Fields, the works were inspired in part by similar land art pieces by English sculptor Richard Long. As the images spread around the web (pre-dating this publication entirely) many people were somewhat disheartened to learn the images were created with software instead of tweezers, a testament to Randazzo’s C++ programming skills used to create a custom application that rendered 3D files based on a number of parameters.

Fast forward to 2014, and technology has finally caught up with Randazzo’s original vision. The designer recently teamed up with Shapeways to create physical prototypes of the Stone Fields project. He shares about the process:

Starting from 2009 project “Stone Fields”, some 3dmodels were produced from the original meshes. The conversion was rather difficult, the initial models weren’t created with 3dprinting in mind. The handling of millions of triangles and the check for errors required a complex process. Each model is 25cm x 25cm wide and was produced by Shapeways in polyamide (white strong & flexible). Subsequently they were painted with airbrush. [...] The minute details of the original meshes were by far too tiny to be printed, however despite the small scale, these prototypes give an idea of the complexity of the gradients of artificial stones.

Apple’s Smart Smartwatch Play Strategy

When Apple unveiled the Apple Watch in Cupertino on Tuesday, the company left a few questions unanswered.

Chief among them: Why should consumers want a smartwatch?

Many had expected that Apple might answer that question by unveiling some magical new use case, the long-awaited raison d’être for watches that extend the phone’s functionality to your wrist.

Instead, Apple displayed many of the same features we’ve come to expect in smartwatches: notifications, directions, messaging, and health and fitness tracking, albeit in a much more attractive, usable and appealing interface.

And it essentially punted on the question of the “killer app” for smartwatches — the feature that will make them indispensable in people’s lives. Instead, wisely, Apple turned that job over to its developers, with the WatchKit development platform.

As it arguably did with the iPad before it and maybe even the smartphone and personal computer before that, Apple did the hard work of building a device with a well-considered and usable interface, and then handed developers that workable canvas on which to draw.

So far, the best use for an Android Wear watch is Google Now, and its third-party apps have been limited, at best. But if developers feel they can do more with a platform, history has shown that they will.

The Apple Watch itself is obviously very well thought out. It takes the smart step of repurposing the crown, or the little dial on the side of a watch, as a navigation tool. And design details are everywhere: the colored dot on the outside of the crown matches whatever band color you have chosen. The fitness tracking is comprehensive, activity-specific and attractively presented.

But I can’t think of a single feature demonstrated Tuesday that we haven’t seen somewhere in another smartwatch. And that’s what is so smart about Apple’s strategy.

In his presentation Tuesday, Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, pointed out a few things that might be possible when developers build apps that are deeply integrated into the watch. The one that garnered the most “oohs” and “aahs” was a Starwood app that will let you check into a hotel room and just wave your watch to open the door. Bypassing huge tourist check-in lines at hotels? Killer app, indeed.

Mr. Cook said a BMW app could display battery life on an electric vehicle and show you where it’s parked. (It’s fair to note that Google Now can currently show you where you’re parked.)

And although Apple didn’t say much about HomeKit, the company’s platform for connecting and controlling smart-home devices, Mr. Cook mentioned a couple of smart-home apps, as well.

When the iPad was introduced, it wasn’t immediately clear what you’d use it for. There were suggestions, of course, that it could be like a bigger smartphone for browsing the web, and that it might be a nicer way to, say, view photos. That led many people, including myself, to question who might actually need such a thing.

As it turned out, need was in the eye of the developers. In time, thanks to apps, the iPad became, variously, a second TV, an e-reader and a full-fledged browser, but also a portable typewriter, a musical instrument and music creation gadget, a video editing console and even occasionally a camera.

They were able to do this because the iPad worked: It’s a good device with a superior interface, great battery life and an instant tactile appeal. Tablets had existed before, but none were quite good enough to make developers want to embrace them.

The smartphone itself followed a similar path. When it was introduced, it was considered a portable computer that could also make calls. Its cutting-edge features were its multitouch screen and its ability to play music and browse the web.

No single person, most likely, realized it could eventually replace stand-alone digital cameras, kill off the landline, become a navigation device to challenge in-car systems, keep us in constant contact with friends and family, and ultimately become the most important, intimate gadget in many people’s lives. The software development kit for apps wasn’t even introduced until nearly a year after the phone’s release.

But once it was, it unleashed the flood of ideas that would make the iPhone indispensable. It was a good device, people loved it, and there were good reasons (including, of course, building profitable businesses) to come up with more ways to use it.

So it is with the watch.

Sonny Vu, founder and chief executive of Misfit Labs, which makes the Shine fitness tracker, told me once in an interview that we probably have no idea, yet, what the perfect reason is for a fitness tracker or a wearable device.

“What I believe is that there are probably one or two killer use cases for wearables that will be uncovered in the next two to four years,” he said. “Activity monitoring is not one of those.”

“So what are those one or two use cases? I don’t know,” Mr. Vu said. “But if we were to speak again in 2020, we would be saying, we didn’t even have X.”

Some developer, somewhere, is even now working on Idea X. Will it make smartwatches as indispensable as the smartphone, or even as well adopted as an expensive slate of glass with no obvious reason for use?

Time, so to speak, will tell.

The next generation of album art

Brian Eno and Karl Hyde aren’t strangers to the marriage between music and stunning visuals. For their recent collaborative album Someday World, they took that union one step further by teaming up with creative studio Toby and Pete, as well as technology and interactive guru Lukasz Karluk.

By bringing Someday World to life through an augmented reality app called Eno • Hyde, the duo have stumbled into the newest generation of album art.

After downloading the app to their smartphone, the user points the camera at the label in the center of the record. Through the phone screen an interactive universe appears, creating visuals in harmony with the physical physical world captured through the camera. The shiny polygons and colours rotating around the vinyl record respond to the user’s touch.

Someday World features appearances from members of Coldplay and Roxy Music. Check out the album on iTunes.




Vibrating handlebars navigate bike lanes on its 3D printed frame

Just like when you’re driving a car, glancing down at your phone while biking the busy streets of your city can be quite dangerous. Thanks to a Portland-based design firm, there’s a bike that allows you to keep your eyes on the road while getting those much-needed directions. The folks at Industry teamed up with local builders Ti Cycles for Solid: a Bluetooth-enabled two-wheeler that connects to a smartphone app monitoring bike maintenance and offers vibrating handlebars for head’s up GPS navigation. A companion app, My Bike, keeps an eye on burned out lights and other potential upkeep headaches. My City, a second bit of software, serves as guide for blazing the bike lanes of your chosen locale.

In order to keep your eyes on the road, haptic grips will buzz when you’re approaching a turn and they’ll both vibrate when you’ve missed one. All of Solid’s on-board electronics are pedal powered with its components tucked inside a 3D-printed titanium frame that unscrews for easy access. Oh yeah, the gears are sorted electronically as well — at the push of a button — and those safety lights turn off thanks to built-in sensors. The silver-clad unit is the group’s entry into The Bike Design Project that’s matched designers in five cities against each other for a public vote on who’s made the best foot-powered option.

Meet JIBO, the world’s first family robot

Cynthia Breazeal, an MIT professor and one of the pioneers of social robotics, has unveiled “the world’s first family robot.” Called Jibo, the all-white desktop-sitting robot has more than a passing resemblance to a certain robot from a recent animated Pixar movie. The robot, which will cost around $500 when it’s released, will have a range of abilities that will hopefully make it the perfect companion to have around the house — such as telling stories to kids, automatically taking photos when you pose, easy messaging and video calling, providing reminders for calendar entries, and companionship through emotional interaction.

Jibo is about 11 inches (28cm) tall, with a 6-inch base. He (yes, it’s a he) weighs around six pounds (2.7kg) and is mostly made of aluminium and white plastic. Jibo’s face mainly consists of a 5.7-inch 1980×1080 touchscreen, but there’s a couple of stereo cameras, stereo speakers, and stereo microphones hidden away in there too. Jibo’s body is separated into three regions, all of which can be motor-driven through 360 degrees — and it’s all fully touch sensitive, too, so you can interact by patting him on the head, poking his belly, etc.

Novartis-Google team on lens for diabetes, farsightedness

Google is teaming up with pharmaceutical giant Novartis to develop a “smart” contact lens intended to replace reading glasses for people who are farsighted and glucose monitors for those with diabetes.

For the farsighted, the device would work like the autofocus of a camera, allowing them to focus on close-up things like the words in a book. It will be designed to work as a contact lens that is changed out regularly, or as an intra-ocular lens, permanently inserted into the eye during cataract surgery.

For diabetics, the lenses would replace regular finger sticks designed to read out a person’s blood glucose level. Instead, the lens will “read” glucose levels in tears, sending information wirelessly to a handheld device that will warn patients when they need to eat or lower their glucose levels.

“These are issues that have been unmet medical needs for quite some time,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez.

Novartis’ eye-care division Alcon, based in Texas, will lead the development work, along with Google X, an innovation lab at the information company’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.

Jimenez, who said he reached out to Google[x] to broker the deal, hopes the contact will be the first of many technologies the two develop together.

“It was very clear that there could be a very nice synergistic value between bringing high tech together with biology to solve some of the biggest health care issues that we’re facing,” Jimenez said.

The work is still preliminary, he said, with first testing in people expected to begin next year. It will be a few years at least before the lens can be considered for regulatory approval and reach customers.

He said a price had not been decided for the lenses, and would not disclose how much the two companies will be investing in the project other than to say that it will be “commensurate with the business opportunity.”

More than 1.7 billion people worldwide have presbyopia, the medical term for farsightedness, and more than 380 million have diabetes, he said.

MakerBot 3D printers now available in Home Depot stores

The Home Depot’s core business revolves around helping you craft things, so it stands to reason that you’d eventually find 3D printers there, doesn’t it? Sure enough, that’s what’s happening today. You can now buy MakerBot’s Replicator line at both the retailer’s online store as well as a dozen brick-and-mortar locations spread across California, the greater Chicago area and New York City. In addition to hosting elaborate kiosks like the one you see here, shops will have staff on hand to both demonstrate 3D printing and give you keepsakes in hopes of clinching a sale down the road. It’s tough to know if the Home Depot’s gamble will pay off — at last check, most people don’t expect to find printers sitting alongside doorknobs and drill sets. If nothing else, it shows that the technology has a market outside of office supply stores and other places you might associate with run-of-the-mill 2D printing.